by Herb Pritchard
While eating at a restaurant, trucker Jerry Sutton was approached by a small lad and given an alphabet card for the deaf. Bored on long trips while delivering Freightliner tractors around the United States, Sutton practiced learning sign letters. This led him to study sign language courses for more than three years.
An Adventist trucker who drove for the same company gave religious tracts to Jerry from time to time. A friendship developed and Bible studies ensued. The provocative literature and his personal study created a challenge for Sutton when he could not find Bible references to support Sunday keeping. Not fully convinced of Adventist truth, he kept looking for the right church.
One night, he had a dream of three girls waving and beckoning him to come into Ocala Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sutton decided to attend the church and saw the three girls. “I could have picked them out of a lineup,” he says. Before long, he became a church member.
A short time later, Sutton found a surprising opportunity to awaken his interest in sign language. One Sabbath, a member brought a deaf friend to church and Sutton was asked to sign for the guest. The Ocala Church deaf ministry which started that day still continues.
With challenges caused by a bad back, Sutton has focused on teaching sign language to Rebecca Nolasco, 13, and Amanda Raices, 15, who now communicate Sabbath services to deaf attendees. “We saw a need and wanted to make friends with guests,” the girls admit. Pastor Dave Swinyar adds, “They are an answer to prayer by picking up the skill in a very short time.”
Each week, Sutton also teaches sign language to three young people at the Ocala Public Library. “Signing can be a difficult and tedious study as there are more than 5,000 signs alone in the Random House American Sign Language Dictionary,” he says. “Not only is there complexity in signing, there is a discipline of learning to teach with accuracy.”
The phonetics of sign language was born in the 17th century. Now, two 21st-century Ocala teens are moving out of their comfort zones into a ministry meaningful to others less fortunate; yet, who deserve to hear about the love of God.